Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen Calls for End to Homework in Elementary School

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Over a decade ago, the economist and Nobel Prize winner, Amartya Sen, formed the Partichi trust to examine the issues of primary education and health in India. Last month, he released the Partichi Education Report II, which recommended ending homework in elementary school and focusing on reading, writing, and arithmetic during school hours. The report also stressed the importance of recognizing and addressing the role of class barriers in educational under-achievement.

According to thehindu.com,

Prof. Sen said: “A somewhat counter-productive overloaded curriculum, incomplete education during school hours and necessity of homework are the reasons that there is a perceived necessity of private tuition since the parents try to supplement at home the education which could not be completed in school.”

He recommended “re-examination of the curriculum and banishing the necessity of homework at the elementary level” to overcome the situation.

Prof. Sen also emphasised the deep social impact the system has among the economically disadvantaged sections.

“It [the problem of class division] applies particularly to the first-generation school-goers, whose parents remain illiterate … the parents can neither help their children with their homework nor can they afford a private tutor. So then, instead of removing inequality through education, we perpetuate inequality between the haves and the have-nots.”

13 Comments on “Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen Calls for End to Homework in Elementary School”

  1. HomeworkBlues says:

    Prof. Sen said: “A some what counter-productive over loaded curriculum, incomplete education during school hours and necessity of homework are the reasons that there is a per­ceived necessity of private tuition since the parents try to supplement at home the education which could not be completed in school.”
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Hey, who let a sane person in? Sen hit the nail on the head. We here call it “outsourcing to parents.” Here’s how it goes: provide a mediocre education. Send home loads of homework. Unsuspecting parents look at the assignments and think, “wow, what a great teacher. Look how rigorous she is!” And to cover up that homework is mandated because of a lack of productivity at school. parents are fed the line, “it fosters responsibility and teaches kids how to follow directions.” No, it fosters fear and teaches kids to please the teacher.

    In affluent school districts, parents then run the tutor tour to plug up all those holes. Test scores go up, school comes out smelling like a rose. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Just who is the greater fool? The school, for foisting this charade on parents, or the parents who let them do it.

    January 4th, 2010 at 8:45 am
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  2. FedUpMom says:

    HWB, I completely agree.

    I don’t usually get into the “fostering inequality” argument, although I’m sure it’s correct. Of course, the kids who are poor, who don’t have computers with internet connections and involved, educated parents at home, are at a huge disadvantage with homework.

    I don’t like to talk about fostering inequality in my neighborhood because I’m afraid it will be seen as a good thing. “Homework gives my kid an advantage over some other kid? Great! Let’s have a lot more!”

    The middle class is a scary place to be right now. The competition is unbelievable.

    It’s strange how we’ve internalized the idea that homework is the real work of school. We seem to take it for granted that kids don’t learn during the school day. It’s as if we expect elementary school to be like the college model, where you spend a few hours in class, then do the real learning on your own, or with other students, after class.

    Of course, the difference is that college kids don’t spend anywhere near as much time in class as elementary school kids, and elementary school kids aren’t at a developmental stage where independent work is appropriate (or even really possible.)

    January 4th, 2010 at 9:08 am
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  3. PsychMom says:

    Exactly, FedUpMom. The school system for elementary kids has lost its perspective, that being, it’s there to promote learning and to introduce children to the bigger wider world in a protected way. Now, it’s seen as college prep and kids are “failing” out of it all the time because they can’t do college work. And if they can….big deal…it still doesn’t mean anything.

    I’m totally mystified by kids in elementary school talking about and doing research and statistics. They are talking about probability, doing calculus in lower grades all the time? Why?

    January 4th, 2010 at 9:40 am
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  4. FedUpMom says:

    Here’s one of my all-time favorite posts at kitchen table math:

    http://kitchentablemath.blogspot.com/2009/07/developmentally-appropriate.html

    Although I don’t agree with their promotion of homework, the underlying point is right on:

    *********
    This brings up something that’s been rattling around in my head. Seems like in so many realms, the schools have completely lost track of developmentally appropriate strategies. They are applying a very simple model. Whatever they are striving for, they try to accelerate. Doesn’t work that way.

    ….

    How to make sure kids learn algebra:
    Schools–teach algebra at earlier and earlier ages
    In reality–teach basic math better, prior to teaching algebra
    ****************

    January 4th, 2010 at 10:39 am
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  5. PsychMom says:

    There is so little respect for a maturational process. In nature, think about how ridiculous and fruitless it is for a lion cub to bring down a water buffalo. It’s as ridiculous to me as a 12 year old with a Powerpoint presentation. And I’m not saying that they can’t…because I know they do and they can….but it’s sad that we think that’s progressive, mature and advancement in our children. Children with special talents are rare, not the norm, and just because a child may have a special talent in one area does not mean that every aspect of their personality and behaviour is adult.

    Respect for Children…that’s what’s needed. Simple respect. With some of the role models we supposedly have today as examples of mature adults, seriously…what is all the fuss about?

    January 4th, 2010 at 11:55 am
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  6. HomeworkBlues says:

    Psych Mom, to quote David Elkind: “just because a child CAN does not mean she SHOULD.” And the truth is, so many cannot. And that is not a flaw.

    January 4th, 2010 at 12:17 pm
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  7. HomeworkBlues says:

    My husband walked in and I quickly had to get off line. We have a very busy day together.

    To add, it is not a flaw when children are not developmentally ready for some adult task thrown their way. It is called childhood and we have lost the respect for the beauty, grace and innocence of this time. We are so hell bent on preparing children for adulthood, we are killing them to save them.

    Surely we know that denying childhood does not result in responsible adulthood. My sister had a favorite saying; Deprive children of their childhood now and they will be children later when you least expect them to.

    Witness college students unable to land jobs and moving back home to their parents’ basement. Yes, it’s the economy but there’s more to it than that. Witness college students unable to select a major. Witness college students going wild with sex and drugs (they don’t tell you this part on the tour) because their childhood was so controlled and prescripted.

    You may argue my generation did that too. But today’s young people are drinking to forget.Witness young adult men not even bothering with college, lost in their computer games. Witness female high achievers who are battling chronic fatigue syndrome in their late twenties. Witness the rise in depression and anxiety on college campuses. We seem not to be raising a generation of healthy young adults.

    January 4th, 2010 at 1:15 pm
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  8. PsychMom says:

    Are we raising children? I think some would argue that the basis of the problem is that children are more or less being left to fend for themselves. We don’t protect them particularly well, and we want as little to do with them as possible, to get all the work done that we ourselves have to get done. I would even argue that there is very little space or time in our lives for children, whether they are ours or not.

    I watched “Sicko”, by Michael Moore over the holidays…that was an eye-opener. It wasn’t just about health care. It was how America just doesn’t seem to care much about its people… little people, old people, sick people. Canada was shone in a positive light but we are guilty of neglecting our weakest members also.

    January 4th, 2010 at 1:44 pm
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  9. Mary Sullivan says:

    Thanks for posting Prof. Sen’s comments. I often wonder if other parts of the world are experiencing the HW overload/tutoring-to-keep-up trend we see in U.S. communities (or at least middle class to affluent ones…still don’t know much about how this plays out in low-income areas, except that of course pricey tutoring is not an option for low-income families, as Pro. Sen points out). Maybe places like India were, in fact, on the front wave of this trend, with U.S. schools then emulating HW-heavy schooling in the name of readying kids to “compete in the global economy”? ( the rationale goes something like this… http://www2.canada.com/calgaryherald/news/theeditorialpage/story.html?id=98953674-35f0-40c1-bfbb-534997f2c288&p=1 )

    January 8th, 2010 at 1:40 am
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  10. PsychMom says:

    To Mary Sullivan…that was an awful article by the Calgary Herald writer. I hadn’t seen that one coming out of the Milley story..but it really didn’t impress me. He seems to think that Canadian jobs went off shore because there aren’t workers here who can do the work or who want to put in long hours. Mmmmm. I thought it was because business people knew they could get the jobs done for much less money in other countries.

    January 8th, 2010 at 9:13 am
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  11. Mary Sullivan says:

    PsychMom–yes, that’s exactly it: businesses can get many tasks completed for a fraction of the cost by outsourcing to places like India & China. To downplay that as primary factor, like the Herald writer did in his ultrabrief mention, is pretty ludicrous. Without opening too much of a political can of worms here, I’ll just add that he neglected to mention the potentially dangerous manufacturing tactics/shortcuts employed in China–e.g., lead-painted toys, melamine-tainted baby formula & pet food ( http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/20/opinion/20sat2.html )
    –where economic growth is so heavily prioritized. Won’t even go into standards of living or human rights. You get the idea.

    January 8th, 2010 at 1:02 pm
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  12. PsychMom says:

    Yeah, I tend to stop listening to …let’s face it…mostly men ….who go on and on about how children should be forced to work harder and parents who seem to be lazy and that the two reasons together are the basis of North American business failure.

    Parents and children are not the reason North America isn’t productive.

    January 8th, 2010 at 1:26 pm
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  13. FedUpMom says:

    When people start going on about how our kids can’t compete unless they do their homework, I want them to take a good hard look at what the homework is. What is it our kids will win, the international diorama-building contest?

    January 8th, 2010 at 5:26 pm
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